For a while, it looked like no one would challenge the University of California for control of Los Alamos, the world’s leading nuclear lab. Not any more.
Lockheed Martin, the country’s biggest defense contractor, is prepping for a monster bid for Los Alamos. And the company has tapped the longtime chief of Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos’ more buttoned-down sister to the south, to head the effort.
Lockheed already runs Sandia for the Energy Department. And for nearly ten years, the former Los Alamos physicist C. Paul Robinson, has been the company’s point man there. It’s been a relatively calm period for the Sandia, with only a faint whiff of the corruption and shaky security that has stunk up Los Alamos over the last decade.
But Sandia has also missed the flashes of scary brilliance that the world has come to expect from Los Alamos. Sandia is known more as an engineering center.
Last August, Lockheed dropped out of the running for Los Alamos. The retainer for running the lab was puny. And early drafts of the request for bids seemed heavily slanted in California’s favor.
But “Lockheed Martin jumped back into the fray after the DOE proposed changes to the Los Alamos contract, including increasing the manager’s fee from 0.6 percent of the lab’s $2 billion annual budget to 3 percent,” the Contra Costa Times says.
And now, it looks like a second discouraged Los Alamos bidder, the University of Texas, may be coming back to the table, as well. Lockheed and Texas officials are talking about teaming up to run the lab.
In recent years, many Los Alamos scientists have been vocal in their distaste for both Texas and Lockheed. “We’ve established a reputation as an idea lab, and I think you’d lose that if the management went to a corporation,” Los Alamos nonproliferation scientist Bill Priedhorsky told me back in 2003. “I think you’d see the better people flee.“
This morning, someone posted to Los Alamos employee blog LANL: The Real Story a Photoshopped memo from Paul Robinson. He’s wearing a Hitler moustache in it.
But attitudes may be softening, a bit. “I’m mid-career, and frankly am ready to work for a manager that’s competent, deft, astute, respected, efficient, rational, self-disciplined, and understands what we do and how hard it is to do it,” writes one LANL: The Real Story poster. “LockMart & C. Paul Robinson sure look like they got a good opportunity to fulfill that potential.“
“What a difference a year makes!” another writes. “Can you imagine anyone at LANL [Los Alamos National Laboratory] saying a year ago, ‘Gee, I wish LockMart would take over from that incompetent bunch at UC…’ Now, we hear, ‘Paul! Save us! Bring in some sanity from Lockheed Martin! You can even change our name to Sandia National Laboratories at Los Alamos! We don’t care! Just SAVE us!’

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